Childhood disease: measles

Most people are aware that measles is a childhood disease. However, adults can also get this disease. It is caused by the measles virus and is a single-stranded RNA virus. The disease can be fatal and that is why there are vaccines that are administered to children at a very young age.


Before you develop symptoms of the measles virus, it has already been in your system for eight to fourteen days. This period is called incubation period. The first symptoms you get are similar to a flu or a cold. You will experience coughing, high fever, a runny nose and red eyes. Measles is spread through the respiratory tract and is highly contagious, especially in the first phase. After a few days, red spots appear on the face and then spread to the rest of the body. These can become extremely itchy. The reason this disease is most feared is because it can cause ear infections that can cause permanent deafness. There is also a risk of pneumonia and meningitis, often with permanent damage. The worst symptoms occur in children under five years of age or adults who have not been vaccinated.

If you have the following symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately:

    • drinking much less than normal (less than half of what you normally drink).
    • earache
    • cough a lot
    • if the fever comes back after having first gone down.

Call urgently or visit us if you:

    • are very ill
    • becomes short of breath, breathes quickly or differently,
    • becomes drowsy,
    • throws up,
    • has a bad headache.


The virus is so contagious that washing hands and keeping distance is not enough. It is in the nose, mouth and throat and is therefore spread very easily. When an infected person rubs his eye and then touches the door handle, the virus is already transmitted. This can even happen when the person is talking, because droplets of saliva are released into the air. Contamination also occurs via the hands.


There is no medicine against the measles virus. Antibiotics may be administered if inflammation develops. There are also, of course, advice that you can apply during the illness. For example, you should drink more than enough. If you have a fever, you should not wrap yourself up too much to sweat. In this case, your body needs to lose the heat, so don’t wear too warm clothes and a sheet on the bed is enough. You don’t necessarily have to spend the whole day in bed, as long as you get enough rest when necessary. Paracetamol may also be used. It is smart to let your work, school and/or people you have been in contact know that you have measles. This is because of the contamination.


Ten years ago, the MMR vaccine was included in the Dutch National Vaccination Program. This vaccination protects against almost every childhood disease such as mumps, rubella, measles, chickenpox, etc. Since every child is vaccinated with this, measles hardly occurs in the Netherlands anymore. It mainly occurs in small population groups that are not allowed to be vaccinated for religious reasons.

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